When I was working full-time as a writer/editor in the corporate world, I spent several years in the trenches, working long hours for relatively low pay. But after about a decade or so, I built on that experience, as well as my several years' of doing freelance journalism and creative writing for publication on the side, I was able to pull down impressive salaries (by staff writer standards, anyway). By the time I was pregnant with my first child, I was earning nearly $75,000 a year. Not super-great money when you live in an expensive city like Chicago and also still have huge student loans from the University of Chicago, but still pretty damn good.
Of course, my employer at the time wasn't too keen on working mothers, so I basically got forced out of my position after my son was born. I took a couple years off, just doing some small writing projects, but by the time my son was two, I was back working about 25 hours a week or so as a freelance writer. I did creative writing (novels, mostly) for publication, as well as freelance technical and medical writing for corporate clients. With a huge recession and massive professional-writer unemployment driving sales and wages down, the money was very bad, and the projects few and far between---at first. But now after plugging away at it for about a year and a half, I'm finally seeing some real financial success. My freelance client base is growing, and paying me rather well. And my book sales are up---way up, in fact---and the resulting royalty checks are rising steadily, too.
According to the Authors Guild (of which I am a member; not everyone is qualified to join, mind you), the average professional working published book author and/or freelance journalist in the U.S. earns $10,000 a year. Not exactly a real living. It goes without saying that most authors and freelance journalists have to keep their day jobs. Since my full-time "day job" is raising a two-year-old, I'm a part-timer too, but it looks like this year at least, I'll be well above the Authors Guild national average for writing earnings. And all the writing that has earned me that $$ so far is published, and paid---either as hourly for-hire work or in advances/royalties.So it may not be equivalent to what I earned in the corporate world---yet. But it's a goal I'm definitely working toward.
I'll close with a favorite quote from one of my favorite authors:
"If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn't bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented." ----Stephen King, in his memoir On Writing